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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Village of the Giants

Bert I. Gordon, during the 50s, brought us giant grasshoppers, cycloptic giant men, and shrunken "puppet people" was still at it. Gordon loosely adapted H.G. Wells' Food of the Gods to make the screenplay for Village of the Giants (VG). Where Wells was serious, Gordon was not. VG is a little bit sci-fi (as were most of Gordon's "giant stuff" films), but mostly his film is a comic farce, pandering to sex-obsessed teen audiences. VG stars Beau Bridges as the bad teens' leader. Ron Howard stars as the Opie-like boy genius and Joy Harmon's chest co-stars. The movie has a LOT of dancing, lots of light-rock music, and teens-rule themes.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A group of partying teens have crashed their T-bird on the washed out road to Hainesville. Their leader, Fred, liked a local girl there, so they walk to town, intent on causing some trouble. In Hainesville, Nancy's little brother "Genius" accidently creates some orange foam which causes their pets (who eat some) to grow very large. The two large ducks show up at a go-go club where the Beau Brummels are playing. Everyone accepts the giant ducks dancing. Comic moments aplenty. Fred (Beau Bridges) figures the giantism is a ticket to quick fortune. Eventually, his gang steal the remaining hunk of goo, eat it and all become 30' giants. Dressed in theater curtains as makeshift togas and bandeau bikinis, the gang assert their control over Hainesville. They boast of their power and dance a lot, mostly for the heck of it. To ensure cooperation of the townsfolk, they've kidnapped the Sheriff's whiny 8 year old daughter, and Nancy. They keep them in a closed theater. The townsfolk have to fetch fried chicken and Coke for the giants. Fred delivers a treatise on adult oppression of teens. Mike has Genius brew up a batch of ether. Mike taunts the giants away from the theater with a David and Goliath reenactment. Thus lured away, Mike's friends sneak into the theater and apply the ether to giant Merrie. Everyone escapes. Meanwhile, the giants have Mike trapped on the steps of City Hall. To save the day, Genius rides up on his bicycle. A canister on the back spews orange smoke. In an attempt to make more giant-making goo, Genius accidently created an antidote. The orange smoke causes the giants to shrink back to normal size. Thus embarrassed at their lack of power, and clothing, the bad teens run away. Out at the edge of town, a group of midgets ask them if Hainesville was the town with the giant goo. ha ha yes. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
As a time-capsule of mid-60s culture, VG has many nuggets of interest. The decorum of the 50s was wearing thin. The wilder hedonism of the later 60s was dawning. Early Beatles-style rock and early 60s crooning was still in vogue, but note the dancing. The fairly sedate "Twist" was replaced by much more vigorous total-body thrashing.

Cold War Angle
There are no Cold War metaphors. VG attempts to focus on teen obsessions.

B.I.G. Product -- Gordon had a niche for himself with the small-things-made-big gimmick or its reverse, big-things-made-small. For a change, VG was a comedy, but used the same special effects techniques -- there is even a giant spider scene, perhaps a nod to the 50s.

Beau Brummels -- They are the band playing in the Go Go club. 1965 was the big year for the rock band, "The Beau Brummels." They never rose above second-teir status, with only a few songs in the top 40. Their best was No. 8. They got the name from an 19th century englishman, famed as a fashion plate. Brummel may be credited with getting men's fashion out of knickers and tights and wigs, and into trousers, suits and ties. Viewers will note that the band members are dressed in old fashioned suit coats and Col. Sanders-style ribbon ties. Old fashioned attire was their stage gimmick. The band did not last long. A couple members were drafted into the military, and one was too sick to perform.

Treasure Chest -- Gordon makes the most of actress Joy Harmon's 41" assets. Much footage is invested in watching her upstairs while she dances. Joy's other memorable movie moment was in Cool Hand Luke ('67) as Lucille, the girl who does the lathery car wash scene. Gordon had a giant model of her chest made up for the scenes in which Horsey is "riding" on her bandeau top while she dances. Perhaps this was figured to be a teen boy fantasy -- riding bucking-bronco style, on a rack the size of a sofa. That moment was chosen for the poster. Gordon was not shy about sexual innuendos in his script. For example, in the rescue scene, Mike's friend Horsey looks down from the catwalk to Joy's ample bosom. "This is gonna take two hands." -- meaning that he couldn't hold onto the ether-cotton AND climb down the rope. Riiigght.

Pandering to Rebels -- Most likely reflecting Gordon's stereotyped notion of what disaffected teens think, he has Fred deliver the rebel-teen's manifesto while talking to captive Nancy. "In this town, for the first time in my life, I'm a big man, not the adults. It's like 'don't' is the only word they know. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't drive too fast. Well, in this town, nobody is going to say 'don't' to ME." Yet, he and the other giant delinquents have no other agenda beyond eating a lot and dancing with abandon. Stereotyped as it was, Gordon's disaffected teens (most of them actually in their 20s) have an 'edge' to them which the later-60s youth (hippies, anti-war protesters, druggies, etc.) would have.

Pre-Woodstock -- Gordon must be credited with capturing a pop moment before it happened. At the opening of the film the gang of delinquent (but otherwise well dressed) "teens" get out of the stuck T-bird. They were drinking beers and listening to rock music, so continue to do so outside, in the rain. They gyrate with eros-laden abandon, finally wallowing together in the thick mud, their hair hanging in wet ropy strings, the music blaring. It's hard not to see a foretaste of Woodstock in that scene.

Bottom line? VG is a shallow and predictable comedy, the humor of which is fairly juvenile and "lite" sexual. Some of Gordon's visual effects work well (like the dancing ducks), while others are not his best work. For fans of the "giant" sub-genre, VG can be amusing. Anyone looking for the serious themes of Wells' novel, will be disappointed. VG is a benign comic farce.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The giant dancing ducks are worth it !!